‘Catastrophic failure of leadership’: Boris Johnson ignored reality of COVID for 40 days, Starmer says

Watch: Keir Starmer says Boris Johnson has shown a “catastrophic failure of leadership”

Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of a “catastrophic failure of leadership” after the prime minister announced a new coronavirus lockdown.

The Labour leader said Sage, the government scientific advisers, recommended a shorter “circuit break” lockdown on 21 September when there were 11 COVID-19 deaths and 4,000 infections.

Now, he said, these longer-lasting restrictions have been implemented as the country records more than 300 deaths and 22,000 cases in a day.

Screen grab of Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer responds to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's statement before the House of Commons where he warned MPs that coronavirus deaths over the winter could be twice as high as during the first wave of the pandemic, ahead of a national lockdown for England from Thursday.
Keir Starmer said Labour would back the new lockdown but sharply criticised the government's approach. (PA)

Starmer said the “central lesson” from the first wave of coronavirus, in spring, was to act “early and decisively” or else more people will lose their lives and more businesses will need to close.

He accused Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak of failing to learn that lesson and said the new lockdown implemented now is, as a consequence, “longer than it needed to be... It will be harder... and the human cost will be higher”.

Read more: NHS Test and Trace failing to reach contacts because 'people won’t answer phones'

“The reality is that the two pillars of the prime minister’s strategy, the £12bn track and trace and regional restrictions, have not only failed to stop the second wave, they’ve been swept away by it,” Starmer said in the House of Commons on Monday.

“At every stage the prime minister has been too slow, behind the curve; at every stage he’s pushed away challenge, ignored advice and put what he hoped would happen ahead of what is happening.

“At every stage he’s overpromised and underdelivered.

“Rejecting the advice of his own scientists for 40 days was a catastrophic failure of leadership and of judgement.”

The PM said he is “truly sorry for the anguish these measures will impose” and that he had done his best to avoid a lockdown.

Responding to Starmer, who said Labour would back the lockdown measures despite his criticism of the government, Johnson said: “I am grateful to (Starmer) for supporting these measures and I think he is right to do so.

“But I make absolutely no apology whatever for doing my level best, our level best as a government, to avoid going back into a national lockdown with all the damage that entails for people’s livelihoods, for people’s mental health, for jobs across this country.”

Speaking about the government’s use of localised restrictions to try and avoid putting all of England back into lockdown, Johnson added: “That doesn’t mean that it was wrong to go for a local approach and it doesn’t mean that it was wrong to support NHS Test and Trace because I think, actually, both those approaches, both those means have done a fantastic job in their way of bringing the virus under control, of reducing the R.”

Watch: Can you get COVID-19 twice?

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